October 06, 1986 12:00 PM

Paul Simon

If you came upon Simon, say, singing Moon River at a wedding reception in Kenosha, Wis., you would probably not immediately think you were hearing one of the world’s great voices. His tastes in melody, harmony and rhythm roam all over the lot; in this case his music reflects, often incongruously, the sounds of black South Africa. His lyrics are so sharp, so full of acute observations about modern society rendered with twists and turns of impressionistic wit, however, that nobody in popular music has turned out more consistently interesting records over the past 20 years. In I Know What I Know on this album, for instance, he sings, “She said, ‘Don’t I know you/ From the cinematographer’s party?’/ I said who am I/ To blow against the wind.” In You Can Call Me Al, he sings, “Why am I soft in the middle/ The rest of my life is so hard/ I need a photo opportunity/ I want a shot at redemption.” While the title track about a visit to Elvis Presley’s estate in Memphis would be peculiar in any case, the South African musicians Simon uses for backup (in addition to vocal harmonies by the Everly Brothers) create an unsettling musical anarchy. On Homeless, though, the blend seems to be ideal: English and Zulu lyrics about homelessness alternate, and Simon’s very American voice is complemented by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a South African group led by Joseph Shabalala. Not all the songs are Africa-oriented. Los Lobos backs Simon on one track and a Cajun zydeco band, Good Rockin’ Dopsie and the Twisters, on another. Linda Ronstadt duets with Simon on one tune too, but while it mentions her explicitly—”this child, Lord, from Tucson, Arizona”—it’s called Under African Skies. Never mind. Let’s not try to explain this. Let’s just enjoy it. (Warner Bros.)

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